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Chapter: 168

Black liquid stirs under Eshya’s feet, shaping into grasping fingers to hold her into place, and forging sharp blades to cut apart her ankles. Eshya isn’t one to let the enemy take the advantage, and she quickly disperses the magical phenomena by slashing her own energised sword through them. The black goop scatters under the force of her blade, but others reform in their place.

The rest of her team works hard to scatter the quickly reforming phantoms. As the pair of powerful insects charge at them, the magically formed blades stop reforming, but they’ve already caused Eshya’s team to split their attention in too many different directions.

The next blow could come from anywhere and at any angle, you can’t dodge what you can’t see.

"I thought you were holding back a little?" Eshya asks, smiling in excitement as the battle starts burning hot.

"You won’t respect us if you don’t know our strength." Roach says, clicking and scraping as he moves across the ground. The black goop that covers the floor sticks to Eshya’s feet, but Roach and Beetle slide over it with ease.

The pair of horrifying, giant insects, stretch their bladed limbs as they skate around us with such a perfect grace that it would bring them to the Olympics if the right people were to see them perform. Pretty much anyone from Earth watching the pair would scream in abject horror though, with a few exceptions who would draw their guns, while screaming in terror all the same.

"We defend our home." Beetle says skating circles around the group. "You’re killing everyone out there. Is that why you’re here, too?" Beetle asks, clicking and hissing before settling on the ground to Eshya’s right, while Roach is on the left.

"You have shit neighbours."  Eshya says, "We’re here to evict them, not you. As much as I’d relish this fight, if it’s all just about pride, can you please just surrender already. Normally I’d love a chance to fight, but I can hear a wounded little birdy out there, and I’d rather like to go and help her sooner rather than later."

Vii. Our beautiful, scarred, little bird, is still struggling along, twisting my heart with her every trembling breath. Shen is supporting her, protecting her, as they pass through the safest streets they can find. The gremlins so far haven’t proven dangerous to them, Rare has been swooping in and burning them with dragon fire, but for some reason the group keeps looking back.

I’m sure the mage is already dead, he has to be. The white fires still burn in the ruins where they buried him, he has to be dead by now.

"It is our home that you’re burning down, we can’t let you burn this home down too."

"Surrender, and we’ll leave you be." Eshya says, deflecting Beetles bladed arms with a well-timed mana shield along the edge of her blade. It’s more condensed than the last time she fought them, and she’s standing a little straighter in the face of their overwhelming strikes.

Still none of the bladed arms seem aimed for her head or her heart, that doesn’t mean that the fight’s not serious. The loss of a limb is too often a death sentence, and they aren’t completely holding themselves back.

"We are strong." Roach says. "We are loyal. We are strong. We must prove this to your leader. If we betray Loekan, then we would betray you as well. If we are weak, you will betray us. You must know us."

He moves through the floor, a trap door hidden below the goop, running on the ceiling of the floor below, his limbs strike through the ground under Eshya’s feet. She tries to dance around the strikes, but the thick goop makes it difficult to move with her usual agility.

Beetle takes this chance to attack her, but our shield wielding vampire isn’t just standing around picking at his scales. Smashing into her side with full force and throwing her across the room using his blood coated shield. Beetle flies across the room, landing on a part of the floor covered in Gerry’s seedlings.

The red leaves, crawl up her legs before the mat is pulled out from under her, and she tumbles to the ground.

Beetle rolls onto her front legs but before she can recover, she’s is assailed by our own insectoid soldier. The little flying creature, whose name is surely unpronounceable, aims for Beetles joins scattering blood from the gaps in her carapace.

If the goal was to cripple her limbs, then our cute little bug has failed.

Eshya grumbles to herself as she charges at Beetle as she finds her feet, reacting to something I don’t see, she shifts a step to the side at the last second, but she’s still too slow. A blade stabs out through the ground, easily piercing her shoes and stabbing up through her foot.

Rather than flinching or swearing at the sudden pain, her eyes open wider as she sharpens the point on her sword with a glowing concentration of mana. She thrusts her blade madly into the ground, moving faster than I’ve ever seen from her before. While she’s not totally lost her stance, what she’s doing now can’t really be considered proper swordplay.

I can only call her actions a violent, manic assault. She growls as she moves around the blades that lash out to counter her, but she doesn’t stop stabbing.

I can’t feel what she feels, but from her reaction it seems like she hit something. Stumbling back, she waves aside the black blades made from goop that strike up at her, one of them doesn’t collapse under the power of her slashing blade.

The bladed arm cuts through her calf, leaving a deep wound and scattering blood over the ground around her. She tries to catch herself but her ankle flops weakly, unable to handle her weight. She falls back to the ground and I hear another hissing growl as I watch.

"Kyra?" Adler asks beside me, her ears twitching as she listens to my growling voice.

"We must prove that we are not to be crossed." Roach says, crawling up from the ground as the shielding warrior rushes in to stop him. "This is our home, and we will protect it. From you, Loekan, wild beasts, and everything else."

"Then you shouldn’t have attacked us." Eshya grumbles, still tightly gripping her sword. "Stop bothering us, respect our own home, and you can keep yours."

"You will respect us only when you know our strength. You need to know how much you’ll regret crossing us. Only then can we trust you." Roach says throwing the shield wielding vampire aside and thrusting a bladed limb down at Eshya.

She rolls aside barely dodging, while lashing out with her own sword, splattering his blood across the dark ground. Our own buzzing insect, flies close and splatters Eshya’s wound with a potion, before harassing Beetle who comes to attack her.

The battle spins with motion, but neither side goes for the kill. Eshya finds her feet again, a joyful smile rising on her lips which she shakes off.

"I need to finish this quick." She whispers. "Vii, I’m coming. Just stay safe."

My attention slowly drifts back to our shared lover, and I see Vii from Shen’s borrowed eyes, her mottled skin covered in the blood that leaks from where her scars open up. There are no threats near her that I can see, but no more allies to support them either. I have to trust in them, and In Eshya who seems eager to rush to Vii’s side as soon as she can.

The battle with the twin bugs drags on, as both sides hold themselves back, the number of wounds rising between them. Though I never take my eyes off of them, my attention slips towards another fight.

Red’s conflict with Giant has grown a little more intense in the past few minutes. Her strikes have drawn blood, and his have bruised her beautiful red skin a darker shade of purple.

"You fight and kill so many people here. How can I trust you?" Giant asks, their conversation still continuing on through the fight.

"There’s nothing we can do to earn your trust." Red says with a harsh smile enjoying the movement of battle. "Not during this fight at least."

"No there is not." Giant says firmly setting his feet and punching down at Red faster than he’s moved so far. Red slides away from the attack, slashing with her knives.

"How is life under Loekan?" she asks as if it’s just small talk, "Is he kind? Cruel? Is he a good leader?"

"He survives, he is better than those who died fighting him."

"Stronger doesn’t make for a better leader." Red replies. "Our Empress has the strength to destroy any sword, but that doesn’t make her a talented blacksmith. Leadership is something aside from strength."

"Then strength is more important than leadership." Giant grumbles. "Strength let’s us live, let’s us keep our home safe."

"Loekan doesn’t seem very strong then." Red replies with a laugh, gesturing at the burning city around them. "And why not have both strength and leadership. Kyra will grow, but already she’s a better leader than most of the incompetent leaders I’ve known. She listens to others, she’s probably listening in right now."

"I am." I send to the both of them, a little bothered that the bar is set so low that it’s difficult not to be better than the others she describes.

"See, so what do you have to say? What would make you turn to our side? Loekan hasn’t defended your home. He hasn’t treated you well, has he? You can do better."

"I want what you choose to throw away. Peace. The peace on the surface of this world that you run from." He rumbles. "An end to the fighting. I want to build, not destroy."

"Then build." I send. "Surrender to us and we’ll give you that peace, we’ll end this war. When this is over, I’ll need builders and farmers more than soldiers."

"It never will be over." Giant grumbles quietly, looking down at his hands, and around at the city surrounding them. The city covered in hot, orange-red flames spreading through the dry wood and ruins.

From the space around them swarms of lesser beasts, escaped from captivity, chase after a group of desperate gremlins. Many of them look like children, or at least younger than full adults. Their eyes open wide in fear as they see their path blocked by the warriors that Red brought with her.

The alleys behind them are blocked by more of the beasts, nothing that would give Red’s entourage any trouble, but the gremlins aren’t so well equipped. Their knives are smaller and crappier versions of the already crappy weapons that I’m seeing used by the main army.

"Is there any chance we can spare them?" I ask Red, throwing the message to Giant too since his choice is what will make the difference.

"If the big man wants to surrender and baby sit, then there won’t be a problem." Red says, looking up to the hairy Giant that stares sadly down at the swarm of gremlins.

"No." Giant says with a long, sad sigh, watching the gremlins get closer to our own blockade. "I can’t control them. They’re frightened, and they’re taught to fight invaders like you."

"Doesn’t look like they’re eager to fight right now." Red says, waving a dagger over towards them. "It’s no skin off my back if they die, but it seems to bother you."

"I will not be responsible for them." Giant says with a sad sigh before turning away. "They can make their own choices. I’ll ask that you let them have a choice to surrender, but I’m not strong enough to protect them. Not from you, Loekan, or themselves."

Giant takes a step away from Red and sets his arms to his side as Red messages the others.

"Surrender now, and you can live." One of my warriors calls out to the desperate group of young gremlins. The grey skinned creatures look between one another, before one of them steps forwards with an incensed scowl.

"No, you surrender! This is our city! Our home!" He shouts, with the rising cheers of his brethren. They might seem small and young, but each one is old enough to pick up a knife and know what to do with it.

If I was stronger, I could melt the weapons down. Capture them and hire a qualified nanny to raise them into decent monster-people. I’m not that strong, and I don’t have the connections to make such an institute.

I could use collars. Bind them, steal away their freedom, their choices. Make them slaves in every way that matters.

I won’t.

Which leaves me no better choice than to watch as the consequences of my decisions come to play before me. I resign myself to the annihilation burning in my heart, the nothingness that calls to me.

At least now, they won’t know more pain.

The blood that’s shed this day is mine. The flesh that’s torn, is mine. The lives that are lost; mine.

This war was my choosing. I chose to take this city. I chose to fight the gremlins. I chose to stand against Loekan instead of retreating, as I always could do.

There is too much lost for me to see clearly all of it at once, but I can’t look away. My heart sinking into despair and darkness as I realize that this is still only the beginning, and without Loekan here, I have nowhere to place the blame.

The fodder gremlins that fight on the ground are something stuck between natural beasts and victims of abuse. They aren’t to blame for their own cruelty, but I simply can’t spare the strength it will take to sympathise. It would be a betrayal to all my own people that I’m trying to protect. The shattered remains of my heart beat on regardless of the pain stirring within.

I’m failing them in this moment.

The gremlins I’ve made into enemies, and who I slaughter because I have no better plan, the armies that I lead because I’m too weak to do this on my own. The lovers that I’ve led to battle, their scars no doubt deeper than the skin, deeper even than the flesh beneath.

I’ve failed the farmers, the scholars, the cooks, and the artists, that I’ve thrown into my war.

I could’ve found another way, I could’ve kept the peace a while longer. I could’ve retreated.

It’s all that I can to do shove my uncertainty aside and watch the war from the eyes of those I’ve condemned to fight in it. The power in my heart withheld, unable to save them because of my own flawed strategy.

"Kyra, quickly listen to me. Red’s battle, if you knock out the gremlins, you can leave them with Giant. He’s hesitating now but force the responsibility for their safety on him, and he’ll protect them."

I blink, looking over towards Adler as my mouth falls open.

It’s… It’s a thought. A plan that I hadn’t considered. That I hadn’t thought of.

I pass it on to Red, and she snarls as she smiles, looking up towards Giant as she blocks a strike she can’t dodge. Though she doesn’t verbalise any orders, her team quickly shifts their weapons about, and readies to subdue the gremlin forces.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Skills & Stats

~Mana Form:

Current mana density: 52,798 units

~Mana distribution:

Defence: 0/100%

Offense: 0/100%

Mana sense: 0/100%

Recovery: 0/100%

Gluttony: 0/100%

Misc.: 0/100%

Efficiency: 0/100%

~Favourited Skills:

-Tag and Film


-Mana surge movement

-Annihilation defence

-Annihilation flame burst

-Annihilation net

-Eyes of an Empire

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

//Author Note

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